ABA Asks Supreme Court to Confirm Standard for Effective Counsel in Capital Cases

February 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
A police officer stands guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 15, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Thursday asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of an Arkansas man challenging the way a lower court assessed whether he received effective counsel during the punishment phase of his death penalty trial.

Timothy Wayne Kemp was convicted in Arkansas of four counts of murder and sentenced to death.

At issue is whether his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to adequately investigate and present mitigating evidence related to Kemp’s childhood abuse, fetal-alcohol exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Both the trial court and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the investigation of Kemp’s background as sufficient, although both concluded a more complete investigation could have prevented a death sentence from being imposed.

In its brief the ABA cited its own guidelines for the appointment of counsel in death penalty cases, arguing the trial court did not meaningfully apply the “prevailing professional norms” standard that governs this case.

The brief also points to the 1984 Supreme Court decision in Strickland v. Washington, in which the justices held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel also carried with it a means to assess whether a defense attorney was objectively deficient, and whether there was a reasonable probability that a competent attorney would have led to a different outcome.

The ABA brief said that in recent years courts have “seized on language” in a 2009 Supreme Court decision to avoid conducting a legal and factual analysis of whether counsel’s representation fell short of an objective standard of reasonableness in light of “prevailing professional norms.”

The effect in the Kemp case, the ABA brief argued, was that the lower courts upheld the death sentence even though his counsel’s failure to hire a mitigation investigator or perform a more robust background investigation “fell below relevant benchmarks for reasonable counsel performance.”

“Had this attorney fulfilled his duty to conduct a thorough investigation of Kemp’s background consistent with the Sixth Amendment and prevailing professional norms, the lawyer would have discovered evidence that would have likely saved Kemp from a sentence of death,” the brief said.The case is Timothy Wayne Kemp v. Dexter Payne, Director, Arkansas Department of Corrections.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court Casts Doubt on Trump's Bid to Exclude Illegal Immigrants from Census
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Casts Doubt on Trump's Bid to Exclude Illegal Immigrants from Census

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's plan to exclude millions of immigrants in the country illegally from the 2020 census count appeared to fizzle at the Supreme Court on Monday. California officials feared that Trump's policy, if put into effect in the last weeks of his presidency, could not only diminish the state's... Read More

Trump Says It Will be 'Hard to Get' His Election Claims to Supreme Court
2020 Elections
Trump Says It Will be 'Hard to Get' His Election Claims to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, even while repeating his groundless claim that "we won the race," appeared Sunday to acknowledge dwindling chances of success in his legal battle to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election won by President-elect Joe Biden. "It's hard to get into the Supreme Court," he said... Read More

High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship
Supreme Court
High Court Blocks NY Coronavirus Limits on Houses of Worship

WASHINGTON (AP) — As coronavirus cases surge again nationwide the Supreme Court late Wednesday barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus. The justices split 5-4 with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the... Read More

Alito: COVID Crisis Has Been a ‘Constitutional Stress Test’
Supreme Court
Alito: COVID Crisis Has Been a ‘Constitutional Stress Test’
November 13, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., told the Federalist Society in a keynote address Thursday night the coronavirus pandemic has led to "previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty." "I am not diminishing the severity of the virus's threat to public health," Alito continued in a... Read More

Supreme Court Appears Likely to Preserve Most of Affordable Care Act
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Appears Likely to Preserve Most of Affordable Care Act
November 10, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON -- So much for the new conservative majority of the Supreme Court dismantling the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, during oral arguments for California v. Texas, one of this term's most anticipated cases, two members of that majority, suggested they're not inclined to strike down... Read More

All About the New ACA Challenge Before the Supreme Court
Supreme Court
All About the New ACA Challenge Before the Supreme Court
November 10, 2020
by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — This morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a legal challenge seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.  This third major challenge to the ACA heard by the Supreme Court, Texas v. California seeks to decide whether Congress, by eliminating the penalty... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top